STEM, STEM, STEM. If you’ve been paying attention to any of the educational discussion over the past few years, you can’t help but notice that STEM is a HUUUUUGE topic of discussion. If you haven’t, then you may not be aware of the acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but I’d be willing to bet you’re aware of the need for a heavy STEM emphasis in our schools.
The acronym STEM was first circulated in the early part of the 21st Century and was championed by the National Science Foundation as a clarion call for both more emphasis on the subjects covered in STEM and the need for more proficiency in these fields in the workplace. But, truth be told, the need for STEM education goes back as far you can see in educational history. In many ways, the development of modern civilization is directly correlated to the development of STEM fields (and sanitation, but that’s a blog post for another day). The development of deep understanding in the sciences and mathematics pulled Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages. The advancement of technology has been responsible for the creation of any sort of civilization to begin with. Engineering is less obvious in most cases because it is so ubiquitous. Engineers are the problem solvers that tear into a challenge and imagine, create, and innovate their way to solutions (that and drive trains! Sorry that’s one of my favorite jokes).
When you put these four areas together you create a climate for the creation of everything from the graphite pencil to the orbital satellite to the smart phone. So if STEM has gotten us this far and created such an amazing world, why are educators and policy makers so worried about STEM education? The answer is pretty simple (at least I think), we live in a world where nearly every comfort and convenience is so readily available that we sometimes forget it takes people to think and create and innovate. We have become such jaded consumers, waiting for the next breakthrough in technological development or scientific discovery that we forget we’re the people that need to be doing the dreaming and discovering. Also, sometimes STEM concepts are hard to understand and we have to work at mastering them and sometimes we don’t like to do that.
I don’t want to diminish the value of arts or physical education here. There is both a place and a need for writers, philosophers, painters, actors, musicians, athletes and their brethren. That place is as a counterweight to the STEM fields. The skills developed in the performance and artistic fields absolutely help both inform and challenge the thinking in the STEM fields (and vice versa). The greater challenge is one of opportunity: for every professional signing job there are hundreds of STEM jobs. And to a more immediate need, STEM careers are the ones that make sure America stays competitive and leads in economic development. This is crucial to the maintenance of our standard of living and the opportunities we pass down to future generations.
So what does EAST have to do with all this? Again, it’s pretty simple the standard EAST program—and now especially our EAST CORE classes—are STEM to the bone. The projects our students tackle include some or all of the STEM areas, but every one requires STEM ways of thinking to develop sophisticated and lasting impact. EAST is a STEM class and always has been; now with EAST CORE (Biology, Geometry, Algebra II, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus) we are more explicitly demonstrating this connection. In the national call for STEM ready students EAST is providing a steady supply and has been for sixteen years.
It is my hope that many, if not most, of our EAST students pursue STEM related fields of study in higher education and then STEM careers. It is literally where the future is, and when EAST students get involved, I know that the future is in good hands.